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Michael Gibson
ONE DROP MAKES YOU STRONGER: Edward Norton's Bruce Banner contemplates new ways to bulk up in 'The Incredible Hulk.'

Sinking Hulk

'The incredible Hulk' has better effects but less affect than Ang Lee's version

By Richard von Busack

IN RIO, Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) recuperates from the aftermath of a rage attack that left the love of his life and her father badly injured. He works as a day laborer at a soda-bottling plant and lives in a favella. At last he seems to have the beast inside him in control. But then SHIELD and the U.S. Army track Banner down, attempting once again to haul him back to the States to dissect the green-skinned and nigh-invulnerable monster inside of him. The title of the 2003 Ang Lee film was The Hulk, and the title of this sort-of sequel is The Incredible Hulk. So we can guess why the first one was perceived as a failure: too much credibility.

Considering the intelligent people who have rallied for the film, I still feel bad about the first Hulk. James Schamus and Ang Lee tried to prove they could go intelligent and emo with this mutant Dr. Jekyll story, while not really having the technology in place to tell the tale. It's depressing to go after a film because this one element failed more than anything else, since film history has proved that nothing decays faster than the startling effect of computer animation. Similarly, the only single way that films of 2008 have improved over films of 2003 is in animation. So The Incredible Hulk's illusions are slightly more convincing. As a result, the film changes completely into a video game in the last two reels.

The south-of-the-border angle is a departure, with Banner trying to tame himself with capoiera instead of sitting at the feet of the usual Asian Yoda. The idea of taking the final battle to Harlem instead of midtown Manhattan is also a different stroke; and the caves and jungles where the monster hides are meant to echo King Kong, which is probably not a bad film to emulate when you're telling a Hulk story. Inevitably, there is no way to end except as a wrassling match, against a large and lumpy Abomination (Tim Roth in mutant form).

Even unto the now-famous cameo at the end of the film, signifying more geekery to come, The Incredible Hulk is a comics-fan geekquake. Hulks of the old days pop up, with a clip of Bill Bixby and a broad cameo by Lou Ferrigno, who also does the voice of the Hulk. Liv Tyler takes care of the moist-eyed factor, weeping prettily as Betty Ross. Outfitted with a handsome white mustache, William Hurt plays Gen. Ross, who believes the Hulk can be used as a military weapon. This makes the film like Robert Minor's famous cartoon in the socialist newspaper The Masses: an Army medical examiner, grinning at a Hulk-size, headless behemoth: "At last, the perfect soldier!" Touches of comedy lighten the film, such as a Seinfeldian bit about a mistaken belief that a taxi ride will be easier for Banner's touchy nerves than a subway ride. The Incredible Hulk lightens up considerably because of a late-inning rally by Tim Blake Nelson as a gleaming-eyed scientist with a hidden agenda; Blake tears into the part avidly and should have been brevetted to head villain on the spot.

Movie Times THE INCREDIBLE HULK (PG-13; 114 min.), directed by Louis Leterrier, written by Zak Penn and Edward Norton, based on the comic book by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, photographed by Peter Menzies Jr. and starring Edward Norton, Liv Tyler and Tim Roth, opens June 13 valleywide.

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